Alberta Premier Rachel Notley’s political spat that has pitted bitumen against sauvignon blanc doesn’t appear like it will have a direct impact on Vancouver Island wine producers, at least for now.
Notley announced on Tuesday that her province will stop the import of wine from B.C. until the NDP government suspends its efforts to place restrictions on the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.
The Alberta Liquor and Gaming Commission is expected to step up enforcement of wine sales from B.C., impacting larger industry producers such as those in Okanagan but not the dozens of others in the Cowichan Valley and elsewhere on the Island.
Averill Creek Vineyard owner and general manager Andy Johnson said his Duncan-based winery ships upwards a few hundred cases a year to private buyers in the neighbouring province.
“Whether or not the attitude in Alberta will reduce the number of sales we make to Alberta, I have no idea,” he said. “It is a very quiet time of year for us so it’s really not making a lot of a difference. When we do the spring sale that happens in April we’ll have a better idea of how things are going to go.”
Vancouver Island wines also aren’t being sold in any Alberta restaurants.
“There’s nobody big enough (on Vancouver Island). You really have to be a good size to have an agency looking after your wine in Alberta. There’s no money in it for the small guys, there’s no margin,” Johnson added.
According to the B.C. Wine Institute also reported that 30 per cent of all wine sold in Alberta is from B.C., with a retail value of $160 million.
The Institute’s president and CEO Miles Prodan said he was “disappointed” with boycotting wineries “over a yet-to-be-determined British Columbia government policy in a different sector.”
“A working free-trade relationship between Alberta and British Columbia is imperative to securing economic well-being for Canada,” he said. “We are disappointed that this political decision is threatening our progress and threatening the successes that have benefited small businesses in both the Alberta and B.C. economies.”
The B.C. government has moved to place restrictions on the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline expansion and has said it will restrict increased shipments of bitumen while it further studies the effectiveness of spill response and cleanup, as part of phase two in its oil spill response plan.
Nanaimo’s Matt and Natalie Riga operate Chateau Wolff Estate, a five acre family-run winery and vineyard set against the backdrop of Mount Benson.
Operating as more of a boutique producer with buyers on Vancouver Island and in Vancouver, the Rigas aren’t caught up in the politics but were “shocked” to hear the news and feel a ban hurts the industry as a whole.
“I think we’re a nation and we try to support everything as micro as we can but at the same time we are part of the same country and I think we should be working together rather than splitting difference,” Natalie said.
“I think if anything it’s a shame for the people of Alberta because they’re missing out on some really lovely wine and as an alternative they’re probably going to be buying international which doesn’t help anyone in Canada.”
Layne Craig, the owner of 40 Knots Vineyard and Estate Winery in Comox, said the ban won’t have much of an impact over the short term but there’s the potential for him to loose upwards of $100,000 if Notley was also to ban the direct sales of wine going forward.
“We have many, many customers in Alberta..if she does ban direct sales that stops all my wine club members from receiving their wine – that’s a fair bit of cash for me right there,” Craig said, adding that he ships a few hundred cases to the province annually and has ties to the Prairies. “The other thing this is going to be is that it’s going to begin to cannibalize the B.C. market because the closer you the better the profitability.”
Speaking to reporters on Thursday afternoon, Premier John Horgan said he wouldn’t be “distracted” by the “retaliatory moves” of the Alberta government.
“I’m not responding in any way other than saying I’ll defend our wine industry. I’m here for B.C., not for Alberta,” he said.
“I’ve spoken with the prime minister and the premier of Alberta. I’ve made it clear to both of them that the interests of British Columbians are my priority, nor will I be distracted by the events happening in other jurisdictions.”
Still, Johnson said he feels the optics of the dispute between neighbouring provinces isn’t positive.
“I think it says a lot for Canada, how bad we are that she’s using those words ‘we’re banning the import of British Columbia wine’ just as if to say ‘we’re banning the import of American wine, or French wine or any other kind of wine. How can you ban something within a country?,” he said.